2021 – The rise of vaccine tourism?

Will 2021-2022 see a rush of vaccine tourists, who need a COVID vaccine to fly on certain airlines?  

This is an area we’ve explored in our previous monthly seminars, and it’s something that’s more relevant given the interviews given by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce that his airline, and others, will require proof of vaccination to fly.

A number of considerations come into play here:

It’s looking more likely that by the Northern hemisphere Summer of 2021, a large mass of people in Western countries will be vaccinated.  Though it’s also worth remembering that people of working age with no underlying health conditions (e.g. most frequent flyers) will be vaccinated last.

However, globally there will be a very different picture.  Rich nations have bought the majority of vaccines (even before one is officially approved).  For example, Canada has already pre-ordered nine doses for every citizen.

And even though organisations such as Gavi are looking to make vaccines available to middle / lower income countries, there are estimates that there won’t be blanket cover in the developing world until 2024.

Of course, people in these countries, especially the wealthier elites will still want to travel.  Then what if you have the ‘wrong’ vaccine?

Though the Russian Sputnik 5 vaccine has now released data suggesting 90%+ efficacy, it’s still unclear how the Russian and Chinese vaccines will be treated by European and North American regulators.

In fact, as far back as June, Reuters reported that Thailand was developing a vaccine with an eye on vaccine tourists.  Though the Bangkok Post recently reported that this vaccine (from BioNet-Asia) was lagging behind, there are other vaccine candidates in the pipeline that might be suitable for vaccine tourism.

That is especially the case for single dose vaccines.  It’s obviously not practical to travel somewhere and wait three weeks for your second Pfizer-BioNTech dose, but Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen, is looking into whether its vaccine (now in phase three trials) can work on a single dose.

As we said in our October monthly briefing, 2021 will see a part vaccinated world.  We will also see a situation where vaccines are like visas.  Different vaccines will give you entry to different countries, have different levels of effectiveness and may even be valid for different periods of time.

The challenge for airlines will be to make sense of a fairly complex picture. Otherwise, the confusion that greeted an Etihad flight attendant, when she returned to her native Australia holding a Sinopharm vaccination certificate, will be commonplace.

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